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Year In Review: House Leaders Examine 2015, Look Ahead To 2016

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The Ohio House was the backdrop for debates on some hot-button issues, including gun control and abortion rights.

Over for the last few days of 2015, 89.7 NPR News is bringing you a series on the biggest stories in state government this year. Statehouse correspodent Karen Kasler continues that series in a conversation with leaders in the Ohio House.

The House was the stage for debates on some of the most controversial issues of the year – such as gun rights and restrictions. Republican lawmakers passed a bill that would broaden the list of places concealed-carry weapons permit holders can carry them to include daycares, police stations, some parts of airports and other places considered “victim zones”. 

And House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said it’s likely that list will get longer. 

“I’m a huge Second Amendment supporter, and I think that, at the end of the day, the opportunity for citizens to defend themselves wherever that they find themselves is important,” Rosenberger said. “And so, allowing to continue to find avenues and ways to expand, that’s going to be something that we look forward to as a caucus and continue to support," Rosenberger says.

Democrats called it the “Guns Everywhere” bill, and Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) said it’s a problem for many in his caucus.

“We’re pro Second Amendment, many of us, but we’re not necessarily – we don’t like the notion that we can’t have conversations around gun safety and say, ‘maybe not everywhere, maybe there are some circumstances where this isn’t a good idea,’” Strahorn said. “I’m hoping at some point we‘re not as polarized on that particular issue."

Another touchy topic is the severance tax on oil and gas drillers – an increase in Gov. John Kasich’s budget was pulled out by his fellow Republican leaders. Strahorn said he shares Kasich’s concern that if the tax isn’t increased by lawmakers, activists will do it by taking it to the ballot.

“As we do it with legislation, then we can monitor it, we can tweak it as we need it we make it, raise it, lower it, redirect money in different places – that becomes a challenge if it goes to the ballot,” Strahorn said. “I do agree with the governor that the severance tax should be higher.”

But Rosenberger said whether to increase the tax is best left to lawmakers. 

“If we’re not careful, it’s going to be an even more temporary resource if we continue to push too high,” he said. “And we have a severance tax now, and I’m also reminded that in the last General Assembly we passed a severance tax at a higher rate, and we got no movement on it anywhere else. So as we continue to look at things – you know, we’re not Oklahoma and we’re not other states that have traditionally had this happen.”

The severance tax is among those under consideration by a commission created in the budget that would study overall tax policy. And then there’s abortion – there were 10 bills dealing with that issue proposed in the House and Senate in 2015, most of them seeking to restrict the procedure.

And it’s set to be a hot topic right away in 2016 with a bill that would require fetal remains from abortions to be buried or cremated. Rosenberger said it’s an important measure.

“This isn’t necessarily about abortion as much as it is about the actual sanctity and dignity of life and how we’re going to take care of that as we continue to process forward,” Rosenberger said. “So that’s why this is important and that’s why you’re going to see this go forward.”

But Strahorn said he’s hoping to more emphasis on job creation and education in 2016, though he agrees the issue is important in a different way. 

“I’m a big supporter of Roe v. Wade, because as much as I respect how emotional this is of an issue for people, I think it strikes the best balance between the sanctity of life and the rights of the individual to be able to deal with their medical issues and privacy.”

The lawmakers do agree that medical marijuana is a priority issue for 2016, and that there may be support for passing some measure to provide limited access to it.